Updated April 6, 2020

COVID-19 (coronavirus) is affecting people of all ages and now exists in more than 175 countries in the world, including every state in the US. What area will be affected next or need to close their borders? Where are our biggest challenges? How many more people will contract COVID-19? Are we in a position to medically care for all? When will students be able to go back to school? When will people be able to go back to their offices, or for some, step out into their communities?

These are just some of the questions that we at AFS-USA ask every day. And, as much as we want answers, we are living in times where there are more questions than answers, and this includes information from some of the foremost experts we have throughout the world. Those of us who are in the care of others are doing our very best to make the best decisions we can, by calling on the most accurate information we have, and using our collective experience to guide us.

When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic, AFS International, the governing body of 50+ AFS organizations worldwide, made the difficult but necessary decision to end programs early and return students to their families in their home countries. It was not a decision the organization took lightly, but it was a decision we believe to be in the best interests of students, especially in the face of continued uncertainty.

AFS is committed to returning students in a manner that is thoughtful, deliberate and cautious.  Some students have already returned, and others are in the process of returning or waiting for word of their upcoming travel. Some students will be unable to return right now due to travel and logistical challenges. While these students wait to return to their families, AFS-USA will continue to provide all support and services from staff and volunteers in the communities where students live, including insurance, until students can travel. In every case, we are supporting students through this process when transportation is feasible. We are doing the best that we can to get students home.

And we will continue to work around-the-clock until all students are, once again, home with their families.

FAQ related to COVID-19

Following the WHO’s March 11th declaration that COVID-19 had reached pandemic proportions, AFS made the difficult, but necessary decision to end all worldwide exchange programs early. Because the COVID-19 virus is moving so rapidly, and the ensuing global health crisis is evolving in unexpected ways, we believe it is in the best interest of participants to return to their families in their home countries.

AFS is committed to returning students in a manner that is thoughtful, deliberate and cautious.  Some students have already returned, and others are in the process of returning or waiting for word of their upcoming travel. Some students will be unable to return right now due to travel and logistical and other challenges. While these students wait to return to their families, AFS-USA will continue to provide all support and services from staff and volunteers in the communities where students live, including travel medical insurance, until students can travel.

Once again, AFS is a worldwide exchange organization which means we work around-the-clock with our AFS Partners in every country that sends participants who are hosted in the U.S, as well as those where our students are on programs abroad. Each partner also works with staff and/or volunteers  who live in the areas where students are hosted. This local presence and volunteer support are hallmarks of the AFS program for over 70 years.

Support for Students, Early Returnees, and Host Families

Returning home from an exchange program always comes with some challenges, like reverse culture shock and missing host communities. Host families often go through a similar transition and may feel a sense of loss as their students depart. We understand that coping with the distress caused by this pandemic and the abrupt end to our 2020 programs has made these readjustments even more difficult for students, new alumni, and host families.

That’s why we are adapting the existing content and delivery of our Pre-Return Orientations for Hosted Students and Re-Entry Orientations for Students returning to the U.S. These orientations will continue to encourage and guide students to reflect on and grow from their intercultural journeys, before and after they return, but they will now be facilitated online by local volunteers and national staff. And, we are adding wellness tips and dedicated time and virtual space to process stress and disappointment students may be experiencing, as well as new ways to connect virtually with AFSers.

National Pre-Return Orientation webinars for hosted students are currently being offered weekly through April. The schedule of national Re-Entry Orientation webinars for students returning to the U.S. will begin in mid-April.

For Host Families whose students have already departed, we also developed similar resources. This includes a webinar with guided reflection activities and a short interview with our Mental Health Consultant, in which we discuss ways to help host families process the sudden departure of their students and cope with continued uncertainty. We are also offering additional support and resources to Host Families whose students have not yet departed.

As these opportunities are meant only for AFS students, returnees/alumni, and host families, we will not share registration links publicly. Invitations to register to these local and national online events are already being sent from volunteers and/or staff to students and families. If you have not received your invitation, please contact your local area team or email [email protected] for more information.

More opportunities to continue intercultural learning online and connect virtually with AFSers around the world are in progress. We know fostering global citizenship and connections across cultures are more important than ever.

Resources

Here you will find trusted sources of recommended precautions and actions, as well as advice on coping with stress.

We will continue to update these resources as more or new information becomes available.